Kera Peterson: In uncertain times, voting is sure way to make an impact

– Kera Peterson is president of the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. She wrote this “Labor Voices” column for the August 2020 issue of The Saint Paul Union Advocate.


“In these uncertain times …”

It’s the marketing catchphrase of 2020, and for good reason. Our lives have been upended by three crises at once: a public health pandemic, an economic free fall and long-standing structural racism. Both locally and nationally, our labor movement is responding to each crisis with urgency and solidarity, and we will carry that same energy into our next big challenge of 2020, the election.

That much I am certain about.

Working people need safe jobs, economic security and freedom from systemic racism. We won’t get it with elected leaders who take orders from the corporate lobbyists and CEOs whispering in their ears. We’re seeing what happens when our federal government puts profits and stock prices before working people’s health and safety, and the results have been tragic.

A staggering number of Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19, more than any other country on earth. And an unacceptable number of cases are being traced back to the worksite, where essential workers have too often felt expendable, forced into the impossible choice between getting sick and getting paid. We can’t have a healthy economy without healthy workers. But the Trump administration was painfully slow ramping up production of the protective equipment and testing needed to keep workers safe, and the president has repeatedly undermined his own agencies’ guidelines for preventing the virus’ spread. OSHA, the federal agency charged with protecting workers, was understaffed before the pandemic. Now, as thousands of complaints pour in from the front lines, the agency stays mostly on the sidelines. We deserve better.

Failing to protect the health and safety of frontline workers has only made our nation’s persistent racial disparities worse. COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates are higher for members of Black and Latinx communities, who make up a disproportionate share of the essential workforce. At the same time, protests of systemic racism, sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, have spilled into the streets nationwide.

Stopping the free fall into even deeper and deadly racial inequality, ensuring the health and economic security of working people, putting our country on a path to prosperity for all – these are our goals as a movement, and they are goals we share with our labor-endorsed candidates. We know this because, over the last four months, local union members have screened these candidates, discussed where they stand on the issues and recommended them for endorsement.

Now, the work of our Labor 2020 campaign begins. Minnesota’s primary election is Aug. 11, and at least one labor-endorsed candidate, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, will appear on every primary ballot. Across the metro, labor-endorsed congressional candidates and state legislative candidates face primary challenges as well. They need your vote.

Unions are about bringing people together, and our political work is no exception. While the physical distance necessary to fight this pandemic means bringing people together – and getting them the polls – will look a little different in 2020, I know we will find creative and ways to succeed. The easiest way to make a difference right now is to make sure your voter registration is current and to request an absentee ballot, so you can vote by mail in both the primary and general elections. It takes just a few minutes on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.

Distance may be inevitable, but division is not. Fundamentally, that’s what the choice in 2020 comes down to. We can join together behind a vision of equality and prosperity for all, or we can continue to be divided by those familiar fault lines of race, religion, sexual orientation, region and beyond. This is a moment that demands clear action and common purpose. And while, in these uncertain times, no one knows exactly how the election will play out, you can be certain which side the labor movement is on.

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